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Two skiers killed after being caught in an avalanche in Utah following late spring snowstorms, sheriff says

SANDY, Utah (AP) — Two backcountry skiers were killed and one was rescued after they were swept away and buried Thursday in an avalanche in the mountains outside Salt Lake City that occurred after several days of spring snowstorms, authorities said.

A rescue team responded to the area mid-morning after the avalanche was reported near Lone Peak in the Wasatch Range southeast of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said. One of the skiers, who was able to dig himself out of the snow, was rescued and taken to a hospital, Rivera said. She said she believed he was the one who called for help. Officers spoke with him at the hospital to get more information about what happened, the sheriff said.

Rescuers in a helicopter flew over the area Thursday afternoon and confirmed the other two skiers had died, Rivera said. They are two men aged 23 and 32. Their names have not been released, but their families have been notified, the sheriff said.

Utah avalanche

A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter transports rescuers from Hidden Valley Park on Thursday, May 9, 2024 and Thursday, May 9, 2024 in Sandy, Utah. One skier was rescued and two remained missing after an avalanche in the mountains outside Salt Lake City. The slide occurred after several days of spring snowstorms. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Conditions were not safe enough Thursday to allow recovery, and crews planned to go out Friday morning, weather permitting, Rivera said.

The deaths bring the number of avalanche fatalities in the U.S. this winter to at least 15, which is less than the average of about 30 people killed by avalanches each year. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which tracks the figure nationally, counted 13 deaths before authorities announced the fatalities Thursday.

The site of the avalanche, Lone Peak, is one of the highest peaks in the Wasatch Range and towers over Utah’s capital. The steep, rugged terrain makes it a popular destination for advanced backcountry skiers, and in the warmer months, experienced climbers can scale the sheer granite walls.

The slide took place at the Big Willow Cirque, said Craig Gordon of the Utah Avalanche Center.

“This is a very serious area. It’s steep. It faces north. The crew that was up there had to be experienced,” Gordon said.

Rivera said they were experienced skiers who were prepared for skiing.

About 30 inches of heavy, wet snow fell in the area over the past three days during storms that also brought very high winds, he said.

“With spring, avalanche conditions can change in an instant,” Gordon said.